In the hot seat – defending the thesis

One of the unusual aspects in studying for a PhD is that the final examination of competence (and quality) is based not simply on the written dissertation but, more importantly, by giving a verbal defence of the work under external scrutiny. Normally this takes the form of a final extended question-and-answer discussion over a couple of hours with an External Examiner from another university and an internal (to the host university) examiner. The student is tested to ensure their authorship of the dissertation and to justify the methods of data-collection, analysis and the formulation of conclusions. What exactly is the new contribution made by this piece of knowledge to the discipline as a whole? Is it really new primary research? Across the university network, the regulations might be applied slightly differently, ranging from a quiet discussion with just the examiners present (the supervisors are not admitted) to a full public audience (as in Scandinavian universities) with almost anyone who has an interest in the subject being able to spectate.

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